Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, stretched a little and then felt the painful realization that a calf cramp is setting in? If so, you’re not alone. Below, we’re going to explain why calf cramps tend to happen at night, and what you can do to prevent and treat them.
Calf Cramps At Night
As we mentioned above, if you’re suffering from calf and leg cramps during the night, you’re just one of many people experiencing this issue. A recent nationwide survey suggests that roughly 30 percent of adults get nighttime leg cramps at least five times per month, and about 6 percent get them 15 times or more a month. A study out of France uncovered similar results, with 46 percent of adults over the age of 60 reporting leg cramping at least once a month.
Muscle cramps occur when the muscle involuntarily and forcibly contracts. They are more common at night because the muscles are in a relaxed state while you’re lying down or sleeping, and movement or stretching them into an active state can trigger an involuntary contraction. Cramps usually last for between 30 seconds and a couple of minutes, but pain can still exist even after the muscle has relaxed.
Not much is known about what causes a leg cramp to develop, but there are some factors that medical experts suggest can increase your likelihood of having an involuntary contraction. Those include going from a relaxed to active muscle state, overexertion and dehydration.
Preventing Nighttime Leg Cramps
Since we don’t know exactly why muscle cramps set in, it’s impossible to draw up a perfect prevention plan, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try a couple of techniques to reduce our likelihood of suffering nighttime leg cramps. As you might have guessed, the best treatment options focus on reducing those risk factors listed above.
For example, some patients report a decrease in calf cramps if they perform a stretching routine before bed or when they wake up. These routines help to slowly engage the muscles so that they don’t go directly from passive to active movement. Also, you may find it helpful to drink a little water before bed or to keep a glass of water on your bedside table. Muscle contraction can set in if you’re dehydrated, so if you can find a good balance between drinking enough water to stay hydrated but not filling your bladder so you can’t make it through the night without a bathroom trip, you’re in good shape. Some doctors may also prescribe vitamins, oftentimes magnesium or Vitamin B supplements, to help prevent leg cramping.
The best thing you can do for your legs is to try some of the above treatment strategies for a week or so and then switch it up. Find out what methods work for you and which ones don’t. Once you’ve pinpointed a routine that helps to minimize nighttime leg cramping, stick to it, and odds are you’ll notice a big dropoff in the regularity of your leg cramps.
If you’re dealing with leg cramps or another foot condition and you want help from Dr. Silverman, reach out to his office below in the contact box.
Lance Silverman, MD
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